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Ixalan has now been out on Magic Online for a week and we have our first big Standard results thanks to the SCG Tour® this past weekend. Together, these have taken a format that was just theory and guesswork and have brought it to life, confirming much of what was expected, but offering a few curveballs in there too.
What was to be expected was continued success of Temur Energy as well as Four-Color Energy, and every variant thereof, due to the very little they lost in rotation, as well as strong showings from Ramunap Red, who also lost very little. Approach of the Second Sun would surely be present and we were likely to see some God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, but beyond that was just guesswork.
In some ways, what we expected to be true was all that came to pass. The vast majority of decks in the Top 8 of both the Open as well as the Standard Classic were among the decks mentioned above. Obviously the format is extremely young and it could just be the case that people have yet to figure out their new brews and therefore turn to something that is a known quantity. Still, I think it goes a little beyond that. I wanted to talk about my testing of the format thus far and the things that deckbuilders need to keep in mind as they try to tackle the format.
Energy has a monopoly on midrange. We saw this with Aetherworks Marvel just a year ago, as you essentially have one deck doing its thing so well and so efficiently that playing the game against Energy that Energy wants is stacking the odds against you in a dangerous way.
Between efficient removal, great threats along the curve demanding answers, and a backbreaking end-game built upon value, you're just not going to out-midrange the Energy decks. You need to pick a side to attack Energy from and go hard from that direction.
Your first option is an aggro strategy that tries to punish them before their mana can be established and before their haymakers can come down. Typically this job would be left to Ramunap Red, but with such a target on its head for so long, Energy decks have learned how to combat it reasonably well. Still, if a red deck can find a vulnerability to exploit, it can definitely punish a deck with the manabase like Energy's.
Your second option is to control the game your own way, going over the top of whatever The Scarab God nonsense the Energy deck has planned as its end-game finale. Along the way, you will also need to deal with their Longtusk Cub on Turn 2, likely a Bristling Hydra or two, and probably a Chandra to boot, so it is not as simple as just beating The Scarab God, but you'd better have a plan for The Scarab God in mind as well.
I noticed this when battling with my Grixis Marionette Master brew from last week. I found myself assuming the control role against most of the field and coming out the other side just fine. Against Energy, however, I couldn't just be the control deck as I did not have great answers to their threats. I could take down a Longtusk Cub on Turn 2 and keep Rogue Refiners off my back, but as soon as Bristling Hydra, Glorybringer, and The Scarab God enter the picture, I had better be ahead on the battlefield or my plan falls apart. I just cannot reliably kill all of these threats while keeping my own alive.
- 3 Bristling Hydra
- 2 Glorybringer
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
- 2 The Scarab God
Because of this, I often found myself trying to switch from control to combo at a time when my setup did not allow it. I would be forced to turn a corner and try to generate as many Treasures as possible in a short amount of time so that I could look to burn the Energy player out with a string of Marionette Master triggers. In switching to try to end the game, however, I no longer can pay any attention to my opponent's creatures and am basically just blocking to stay alive as long as possible so I can hopefully combo off.
Under the pressure of opposing creatures, removal, and planeswalkers, this rarely worked out for me. Occasionally I would steal a game with Master, but for the most part, once they broke past my control elements, I could not pick things up in time to secure a win. I needed to either become more of a control deck so that I could extend the early portion of the game and buy more time for setup, or I needed to become more of a combo deck so I could race the threats that Energy presented.
I decided to test the waters both directions. Here is an updated version of my list from last week, skewed to combat Energy in a more controlling manner.